Implicit in the term attachment parenting is an assurance of close contact. Child wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding; all these hands-on parental practices encourage a strong “attachment” between parent and child, in both a physical and psychological context. In a childs first few years, this attachment will generally, and naturally enough, be strongest to the primary care giver (typically the mother). If the child is still being breastfed, the attachment to the mother is compounded and may mean that at bedtime and during the night the father is shunned in preference to the one with the food and comfort. This situation can be very frustrating for fathers who are trying to play a meaningful role as an equal parent in the upbringing of their children.
It is difficult enough in a one child family for Mum to have to do all the work, but Dad can make himself busy doing the dishes or cleaning up. But if there are two or more young children in the family, very stressful problems can arise if there is a sudden unmanageable demand for Mum. This could for example be the youngest child needing to feed at the same time Mum is putting the other child to bed. In an equal situation this would not be a problem. Two parents, two children.. But when the youngest will not settle in Daddy’s arms and the older child will only be put to bed by his mother, two things happen. The mother is stretched, sometimes beyond her capacity, needing to juggle two fussy and demanding children who are also becoming overtired. And the father is being left out of the loop, made to feel rejected and virtually useless. The natural consequences of this situation is of course, a fair amount of frustration for everyone concerned, including the children.
What can a father do? How does it affect him personally, and affect his role within the family? In an attachment parenting context, the father wants to take part as much as possible. He knows of the very special bond between mothers and their babies, and he works hard to build bonds of his own. The level of frustration he experiences when all this work seemingly comes to naught is important for his partner to understand. Despite him knowing, on a logical, rational level, that his children are not rejecting him as a father, but they are just needing their mother more, he still feels kicked, useless and frustrated. The fact that children go through developmental phases and will most likely be all over him in a year or two does not help that particular evening when there are two screaming children and he can do nothing but offer moral support to his partner.
So what concrete steps can a father take to lessen these feelings, and increase the chances of his useful participation in these difficult times of the day:
Firstly fathers, you should tell yourself again and again that it is nothing personal. Your children are not rejecting you – they are just expressing a greater need for their mother. (Logic and rationality are one thing – emotions are another. Us men need to reassure ourselves that we are OK, and have not failed in any way. With a new baby, remember that the mother and childs’ relationship has a nine month head start over yours)
Remember that most of the time you are rejected by your child, they are experiencing some form of frustration or emotional upset. They just want their Mummy, and you are getting in the way of that.
Be useful in other ways. If you cannot help directly, you should support your partner to the fullest – make her a cup of tea, or run a bath, or wash the dishes and clean up, and be prepared to give her a massage when she can rest. Raising children in an attachment parenting manner is extremely hard work, and the burdens of motherhood should be clearly acknowledged.
With night time issues (if co-sleeping) there are two ways of dealing with problems. Either go to a spare bed and be rested so you can take over in the morning, or if that’s not possible, provide moral support and help to your partner, so as to show solidarity. She will love you in the morning for it.
Begin to establish sleep time connections with your child by reading them stories, bathing them, giving them special Daddy hugs etc.. Even if it doesn’t pay off immediately, it will in the long term. The more you take on the hard work now, the sooner it will pay off.
Finally, remember to give yourself (and your partner) a break. All parenting is hard work –attachment parenting is doubly so. Particularly if you are overtired and overworked. Remember the end goal is to get through it as a team. Work with each other, not against. Do whatever works best for your family, and remember that it is just a phase, and soon your children will be all over you, only wanting their Daddy, and that you will then have all the joy in the world.